Performing artists Ntomboxolo Donyeli and Masixole “Masi” Heshu’s working relationships have included that of director and actor, mentor and mentee, choreographer and performer. But they have an enduring relationship that is much more fundamental; that of mother and son.
Ntomboxolo and her son, Masixole, are performing artists committed to the dramatic arts. They are part of Ubom! the Eastern Cape based drama and theatre company that draws together the skills of local community performers and university graduates for the purpose of social development.
They boast an extensive list of performances alongside the likes of Brett Bailey and Andrew and Janet Buckland among other well-known artists. They also have a range of awards to show for their efforts.
Locally, Ntomboxolo (54) won Best Director for the Makana Drama Development Festival production ‘Split and Mud’. She’s also picked up best director and best production at the Port Elizabeth Iphulo Festival and has won multiple awards for physical theatre. Her son follows in her footsteps. Masixole (22) has won best supporting actor at the Makana Drama Development Festival and recently received the best upcoming actor award.
There’s no denying that even though mother and son are involved in the arts, there’s a distinct difference in their career and opportunities, even today. Ntomboxolo hit the stage as a young performer in the 1970s, a black female artist at the height of apartheid.
“I didn’t go to university, and those who went to university get better opportunities than people like me who have had years of experience so even now I’m not treated equally as an artist,” she said.
On the other hand, Masi began his career at the age of 12 as a ‘born free’ with his mother’s guidance after ‘growing up’ in the theatre. “I was always at performances,” said Masixole smiling at his mother, who continued where he left off.
“At a young age Masixole was curious. He was the kind of kid who liked to play a lot with other kids. Sometimes you’ll notice that Masi would even come late because he is playing outside. Even now he is still curious and he wants to learn, he wants to know and he likes to involve himself in whatever is happening, almost like his mom” she said. They looked at each other and laughed.
While Masi is completing his third year in Drama and Politics at Rhodes University, Ntomboxolo had very few opportunities growing up under apartheid. Despite the challenges, she’s always insisted that performing is in her blood.
“I think it was my father because he loved jazz. He was this person who liked to sing, he taught us how to sing jazz songs. He was always giving me and my brother notes and tones like, ‘you girl you go heee and boy you go hoooo’ and I didn’t even know that for some of the song I was singing the wrong notes,” she said laughing.
Mother and son share a sacred bond on and off stage, committed to local development and exposure of black artists, especially at formerly white institutions who are dragging their feet when it comes to transformation.
“The progression of a black actor has been up there since the times of Bonsile John Kani, Winston Jona, Mbongeni Ngema and Gibson Kente. Here at the Drama department at Rhodes there are today only a few black males who are performing and that’s one of the things that stresses me out,” said Masixole.
Mother and son plan to register a family performance company in which their family members will participate and are passionate about supporting other black performing artists.